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Boxill steps outside her comfort zone – again –
as she begins new post as Carolina’s faculty chair

When Title IX was passed in 1972, opening doors for women in unprecedented ways, Jan Boxill already had a college degree under her belt.

Although she never benefited from the expanded opportunities the law afforded, sports have shaped much of her life.


The 10th of 12 children, she grew up playing football with all 11 siblings, five of whom were boys. It was a welcome respite from the hardship of living on an upstate New York farm that had no indoor plumbing or other normal amenities – and more significantly, had no adults to shepherd the large brood. Boxill’s mother died when she was just 3, and her father, when she was 12.

Like her brothers and sisters, she milked the cows twice a day and went to school without fail “because it was a lot easier going to school than it was working on the farm,” she said. “I got to use a real toilet, and it was warm in the winter.”

Sports served as the family glue. “We played everything,” she said. “It was the one thing that allowed us to be partners. We were good friends and we loved each other, but we played hard.”

In high school, she dearly wanted to play sports but couldn’t because girls were not allowed to participate. So, she turned to her other childhood passion: music.

“Sports and music kept us going,” Boxill said. “Fortunately, the school loaned us instruments, and we all played. We would play music at home and sing all the time. That was our entertainment.”

At 18, she joined the military, and after three years playing saxophone in the Women’s Air Force Band, Boxill attended junior college and later used the GI Bill to help foot the cost of attending UCLA.

There, she not only earned her bachelor’s degree in political science and her master’s and doctoral degrees in philosophy, she also helped form the inaugural women’s basketball team.

As an undergraduate, she actually had wanted to play in the marching band, but once again, women were not allowed. It was the ’60s, and the passage of Title IX was still some years away.

Fighting for social justice
Being told no so many times fueled Boxill’s passion for social justice in matters affecting minorities as well as women.

At Carolina, where she is senior lecturer in philosophy and director of the Parr Center for Ethics, she writes and teaches about ethics, social and political philosophy, ethics in sports and feminist theory.

Boxill is editor of “Sports Ethics: An Anthology” and “Issues in Race and Gender” and is past president of the International Association for Philosophy in Sport. She chairs both the 2011 NCAA Scholarly Colloquium and the Education Outreach Program for the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.

Never too far from the action of the game, Boxill also spent 20 years as the public address announcer for Carolina women’s basketball, and she still serves as the public address announcer for women’s field hockey and as radio color analyst for women’s basketball.

During the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, she fulfilled another lifelong dream when she was tapped to be the public address announcer for men’s and women’s basketball.

“I had always wanted to be in the Olympics, but women’s basketball wasn’t part of the Olympics until 1976, so I got to take part in a different capacity,” Boxill said.

When opportunity knocks
She learned at a young age that necessity spawns creativity. And Boxill staunchly believes that when opportunities come your way, you have to take advantage of them – even if it means stepping outside your comfort zone.

That mantra led her away from the family farm to UCLA and eventually to Carolina.

It’s something she tries to instill in the countless students she teaches and advises. And after 25 years here, with a host of leadership posts as well as teaching and mentoring awards to her name, that familiar refrain led to her newest position as faculty chair. She assumed the post July 1.

“This is definitely a new challenge,” she said. “I was asked to run a couple of times before, but I wasn’t ready. But this time, I thought, ‘Well, it’s near the end of my career. I have done a lot of things, and it’s time to move out of my comfort zone.’ I also thought it was a good time to show the respect fixed-term faculty have.”

Boxill knows she will face issues and challenges that she cannot fully anticipate. She plans to deal with them the same way she has just about everything in her life – head on and drawing from the strength of teamwork.

“I am very much a collaborator,” she said. “It’s really taking advantage of opportunities that are provided and including others in those opportunities. I don’t have all the answers, and I don’t pretend to know the answers. But I want to surround myself with people who can enhance and complement what I know.”

Asking the right questions
Her approach to problem solving centers on four basic questions: What is the goal we want to achieve? Where are we with respect to that goal? Why are we where we are? How do we go from where we are to where we want to be?

People have differing opinions on each question, Boxill said, and the point of discussion is to examine one question before taking on the next.

“I don’t like debates; they’re too polarizing, and we’re already polarized enough,” she said. “It’s more important to focus on how we can come together and what our common interests are.”

Because issues are not one-dimensional, Boxill said, distilling them to pro or con diminishes their significance. She likened the concept to watching smoke shoot from individual chimney stovepipes and intertwine when it hits the air.

Admittedly, using that approach in a large group such as Faculty Council can be challenging. To help lay the groundwork, Boxill currently is assembling people with diverse perspectives and backgrounds for two of the council’s key committees, the Agenda Committee and Faculty Executive Committee.

To increase faculty involvement, Boxill wants to show faculty that the council meetings are relevant to what they do. Building upon former chair McKay Coble’s approach, she plans to include structured discussion on the agenda.

“I think that’s going to be even more important now because of the budget situation and as we move forward with the Academic Plan,” she said.

The power of collaboration
As the University faces more challenging budget cuts for 2011–12, Boxill believes that remaining true to the core mission is critical.

“We’re here to provide an education to develop citizens of the state and the world,” she said. “In everything we do, the University’s mission has to be our benchmark.

“Carolina is a liberal arts institution, a research institution. Even though technology has changed a lot, what hasn’t changed is what Chancellor Thorp and Buck Goldstein in ‘Engines of Innovation’ called the intellectual entrepreneurial aspects of a university.”

The focus of the new Academic Plan on interdisciplinary collaboration can help “lessen the budget pain” for campus units, Boxill said, especially as Carolina’s centers and institutes foster new partnerships among faculty members.

“Our centers will be hit hard with budget cuts, so we need to examine how, without much money, we can still have key programming and make sure the centers thrive,” she said. “It’s important to recognize the wealth of expertise we have on our campus and that we’re all partners in solving problems.”

As faculty chair, Boxill sees herself as the faculty’s advocate, “but it’s advocacy with reason.” Realistically, she knows she can’t do everything people – including herself – might like. She is more of a mediator.

“I’ll be honest. I’m not aggressive,” she said. “Well, only on the court.”

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July 13, 2011

July 13, 2011 Gazette as PDF
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* *Carolina budget cuts offset in part by UNC Health Care transfer

* *Boxill steps outside her comfort zone – again – as she begins new post as Carolina’s faculty chair

* *A beacon of hope at the end of a desperate journey for many Burmese refugees

* *Sampling the history of the Outer Banks’ barrier islands

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(Including links to Gazette budget stories)

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